Back to square one - Ali Brown guest post
From fighting for medals, competing with the best amateur athletes in the world, being in top physical shape, being healthy, feeling great, to the decline, back to square one and the resulting impact it is having on me.
(I have great perspective in life, I also have great levels of general awareness, these words are my experience and my thoughts only. It helps me to write things down and to express myself in different ways to make sense of things and grow as a person. I also decided to make it public so feel free to read it, or not)
What I have noticed is I seem to go through this mental cycle of personal change:
- Things start to decline
- Once at the bottom, they stabilise
- Realign/review my overall direction
- Seek and find inner fuel/motivation
- Develop as a person
- Rise up with crystal clear clarity and renewed direction
- Achieve what I set out to achieve
- Maintain for a while
- Begin to lose clarity and direction
- Repeat the whole process.
But each time I go through the process, I feel I am more developed than last time, it’s compounding. Like an animal going into hibernation each winter but every spring they are stronger than the previous year. My life isn’t constant and I’ve realised what happens to me. Without motivation and clarity, my potential is put on ice. I trust myself that even in the dark times that I will be OK and I am just going through this cycle.
A toxic mixture of lockdown restrictions affecting everything, multiple health issues, loss of motivation and clear thinking, build-up of frustration and anger, has resulted in 5 months of inactivity. Going from 10+ hour training weeks to close to zero felt like being a high dose of anti-depressants and going completely cold turkey (I have also experienced this). But in this instance, it felt more dramatic and harder to cope with.
My normality was triathlon training and I “needed” that to have a balanced lifestyle. It ensured my brain was releasing enough endorphins (or Dolphins as I like to call them), to be able to get through everyday life whilst keeping depression and anxiety in check as much as I can. I could cope with it. I could manage it. A bi-product of this lifestyle meant I was physically healthy, which felt good, and I am lucky that it also meant I was able to compete and race close to the top of the amateur ranks. However, that was just a consequence. The main reason I do this is again, to keep the balanced lifestyle and “cope” with my mental health issues. If that also means I get some nice medals and qualify for championship races, then cool, a bonus for me.
My Dolphins reduced when the swimming pools closed, they reduced again when I developed severe Chilblains in my feet, unable to even walk for weeks, and hardly able to push on the bike pedals. As a result, my brain stopped producing endorphins and on came the decline. Everything in my life changed, every routine I had was no more, my mind was elsewhere, I no longer felt like the same person. It felt like a monumental effort to just do the simplest of daily tasks and carry on. I started to think about not being here and what it would be like if I was no longer here. The mental demons I once controlled with exercise were roaming free in my mind and with it came suicide thoughts. Writing that word, just now, bought tears to my eyes. Typing it out “suicide” is powerful, difficult to do. To put what is in your mind into an actual tangible word, on paper. It makes it real. But supressing it is the problem. Especially in males, typing out the word suicide and talking about it needs to be normalised and not hidden away from. 76% of all recorded suicides in the UK in 2019 were men. This is noted as a “constant trend” from the mid-1990's. Being a male and knowing most males would never talk to someone about feeling suicidal makes me feel sad. It makes me want to talk about it even more to at least bring awareness that this is a big issue and we need to do a lot more to help and prevent it.
I decided to search for a therapist and I arranged a consultation. I now speak to them every two weeks and it has increased the amount of hope I have. You can rarely talk openly and honestly about somethings to friends or family, because their responses are not always helpful and can even make things worse, so having a professional to talk to is vital for me.
I noticed that this time the cycle I go through would be more dramatic, and it was, it still is! But I am also resilient and taking action to ensure I can remain in control. And things “will” improve and the climb up can begin. I can feel myself gaining more clarity by the day and becoming motivated to decide upon and achieve my next goal as an athlete. The pools should be open within a month, my health is good enough for me to be able to start to run again (and my god, it feels like I’m a total beginner again), and the turbo trainer is set up and ready for me.
This virus and the resulting lockdowns have been brutal. But I can now see the other side of it because I listened to myself, I was self-aware and I stayed true to myself – which some people don’t like or don’t understand, but they don’t have to. My Dolphins will return, I can achieve balance in my life once more and I will continually develop as a human being. If that also means I get to stand on a podium again, well, time will tell.
If anyone would like to contact me, even just to say “hi”, I’d welcome it, you can find me here: https://linktr.ee/
About the author: Alister Brown is a Sundried Ambassador and avid runner who represents Great Britain as an age group duathlete.
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